We have a winner and our system worked this time

in Contributors/Scott Graber/Voices by

By SCOTT GRABER

It is Sunday, Nov. 8, 2020, and it is early, still dark, but we have a winner — Joe Biden.

It was not the easy, elegant early-morning decision we have known in the past. The television networks — reeling from imprecise, misleading polling during the campaign — held back. So we got our results piecemeal – almost precinct by precinct, the counting becoming a teachable moment. The teachers being Steve Kornacki at MSNBC and John King at CNN.

When my wife and I arrived in Beaufort (1971), we were interested in elections and election results. In those days we lived on Port Republic Street and we could walk to the Arsenal where the ballots were counted. In fact, we would usually be drafted into the counting process which involved pencils, legal pads and paper ballots.

The ballot boxes were, in fact, locked wooden boxes that were carried to the Arsenal in pick-up trucks. Although we always waited for the boxes from Hilton Head Island, and the single box from Daufuskie, they contained few votes and never changed the outcome. But Arthur Horne, then Chairman of the Democratic Party, couldn’t “call” the election until they arrived and those 16 or 17 votes were counted.

In 1971, local and statewide governance was entirely within the ownership of the Democratic Party — in those faded, sepia tinted days you could count the Republicans in Beaufort on one hand. The electoral arithmetic acknowledged that the African-American vote was sometimes 35 or 40 percent of the popular vote.

In 1971 The City of Beaufort had its conservative precincts; but they were overwhelmed by the liberal precincts on St. Helena Island, Seabrook, Burton and Sheldon. Other parts of South Carolina, Greenville in particular, were drifting into the Republican orbit sending a few of these strange folk (Carroll Campbell) to the General Assembly. But our representatives — Jimmy Waddell, Jim Moss, Harriet Keyserling — were Democrats. 

By the late 1980s the South Carolina General Assembly was beginning to change. At first it was long-tenured Democrats who said they were tired; that things had changed and now they were ready to go home and fish off their docks. Younger members simply changed their party affiliation, often saying, “I didn’t leave the Party. It left me.”

And something else was happening.

Beaufort County, along with Horry and Charleston counties, was seeing an influx of northern retirees. These folks were lured to Beaufort by lower taxes; golf courses where one could get a 10 o’clock tee time; and winters that rarely involved the shoveling of snow. In the 1970s and 80s, this southern migration was a trickle; but in the 1990s it was an unrelenting wave.

These retirees arrived in Beaufort County with a pension, a desire to spend more time with their grandchildren, and a desire to make the last quarter of their lives meaningful.

And they arrived with their Country Club Republican conservatism intact. By the turn of the century they had completely erased the “African-American advantage” and had built a Republican majority.

Mr. Trump is blaming his defeat on bad ballots, cheating and corrupt vote-counting officials. But if one watched Kornacki or King, one got a granular tutorial on the mathematics of this particular election. It wasn’t hard to understand.

The essential divide — the battleground this time around — was between the large Democratic cities (Philadelphia, Atlanta and Las Vegas) and the Republican-held counties in between. The cities were blue blobs; the rural countryside was colored red; and a first glance it was hard to understand how this red mass could represent a Democratic victory.

But Kornacki and King explained that vote-rich cities were not yet counted. These voters, mostly Democrats, voted early (or by mail) and that the election-day votes were being counted first.

This tutorial went from city to city explaining the total votes cast; the probable breakdown between the Democratic and Republican voting; and why that number would likely overtake the votes cast on election day.

It might have been confusing had they done this arithmetic once, or twice, but they did it over and over again as “tranches” of votes were released by the vote counters in Philadelphia and Atlanta.

Donald Trump is not going down graciously in the manner of Al Gore or George H.W. Bush. He will preach his homily of vote-counting treachery until the day he dies.

But the math learned between Nov. 4 and Nov. 6 is indelibly etched into the brains of the serious, sentient Americans who believe our system worked this time around.

Scott Graber is a lawyer, novelist, veteran columnist and longtime resident of Port Royal. He can be reached at cscottgraber@gmail.com.